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League Bulletin

February 12, 2021

WHAT HAPPENED: The early days of the 2021 long session carried on in Raleigh as Gov. Roy Cooper signed the state's latest COVID-19 relief measure into law.

WHAT IT MEANS: We have a few bills on the radar, noted below in this Bulletin, but much of the bill activity is in the conversation and strategy stage. For one, the N.C. League of Municipalities' Government Affairs team met with numerous legislators this week – including Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore – to familiarize or update them on the legislative goals that cities and towns have set for the new legislative biennium.

ON TAP: Meanwhile, big news on Capitol Hill. A U.S. House committee released a draft bill with $350 billion in emergency relief for state and local governments, as we know the recovery from the pandemic must start at the local level. We break it down ahead in this Bulletin.

THE SKINNY: Make sure you register for the upcoming Town and State Social, a virtual event we're holding on March 3, so you can develop your fellowship with your state legislators and keep the momentum going as we, the cities and towns of North Carolina, work as one to advance the entire state.

WHAT HAPPENED: The legislative long session entered a new week of work on bills old and new, some of which we've broken out for your attention in the Bulletin below. As it happened, lawmakers received presentations on the new consensus revenue forecast, which expects fiscal year 2020-21 collections to be “well above" last year's forecast by about $4.1 billion. Appropriations committees will start to meet next week. 

WHAT IT MEANS: We're wading deeper into the 2021 session, with more substantive discussions and -- attention -- bill-filing deadlines. As we've pointed out in past editions of the Bulletin, your senators have until Feb. 25 to get local bills to the Bill Drafting Division and must introduce them by March 11; your House members have until March 3 and March 25, respectively. 

ON TAP: Our Town & State Social is coming right up. Make sure you're registered for this important, virtual event connecting legislators and local leaders on Wednesday, March 3 at 5 p.m. Also make sure to sign up for the next Advancing Advocacy, which will examine what U.S. Census data and redistricting requirements mean for your municipality and local elections scheduled for 2021.

THE SKINNY: Also, please observe the article below on the loss of our beloved colleague, Kelli Kukura, an influential League staffer and family woman who ended her long-fought battle with cancer this week. A GoFundMe has been activated to benefit her family, who we'll keep in our thoughts.

​We all know the central news focus over on Capitol Hill of late; the Senate impeachment trial consumes the visual field. But there was a big-ticket item for cities and towns this week – federal lawmakers introduced a draft bill that included $350 billion in emergency relief money for state and local governments. The bill comes from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and it would mark $130.2 billion to divide evenly between cities and counties. It would program $65.1 billion to cities using a modified Community Development Block Grant formula, with $45.57 billion for municipalities with populations of 50,000 or more, and $19.53 billion for those with less than 50,000. $65.1 billion would also go to counties based on population.

“We are deeply encouraged that Congress is listening to the voices of local leaders and is finally advancing the critical relief that municipalities need to help our communities across America recover from the COVID-19 pandemic," said National League of Cities CEO Clarence E. Anthony in a statement on Thursday.

Local leaders and the N.C. League of Municipalities have steadily press for recovery aid for the best outcomes for our communities' residents, businesses and future footing. As stated by NLC, “Our national recovery starts at the local level, and we need support from our partners in the federal government to help keep our frontline workers employed and arm local governments with the resources to continue fighting back against the pandemic."

The N.C. League of Municipalities is proud to host the annual Town & State Social: A Virtual Town Hall Connecting Legislators and Local Leaders on Wednesday, March 3 at 5 p.m., this time presented in a virtual format.

Join us for this special evening to celebrate our cities and towns, and to discuss the most critical topics facing our local governments. This is a valuable opportunity for our local leaders and state legislators to meet, interact, and hear from one another regarding the pressing issues facing our cities and towns.

The event will include policy updates from numerous legislative leaders, town hall sessions between state and local officials, and networking opportunities that aim to strengthen relationships as we move into the 2021-22 legislative biennium. We will also be exploring NCLM's Municipal Legislative Goals, as adopted by you, our local leaders, and look at how they intersect with the challenges facing your city or town.

This won't be just another Zoom meeting. Be ready for an engaging evening, full of entertaining and valuable segments that, by evening's end, will help us in “Working As One, Advancing All." 

CLICK: Information and registration.

​You might be wondering where we are with bill filing in the 2021 state legislative session thus far. Still early for what we call the “long session,” which happens every odd-numbered year, we’re not at full tilt. Legislators and various groups are still in conversation stages about the legislation they want to see this year – and we’re among them; more on that in a moment. But that’s not to say the books are blank. Lawmakers to date have filed 171 bills -- 79 in the House and 92 in the Senate. The League’s Government Affairs team follows the filings constantly, as individual bills may have pertinence to cities and towns. As we log them, we’ll share the foremost of them with you in these weekly Bulletins. Briefly:

- HB 7 Protect City Employees from Retaliation

- HB 13 State Search and Rescue Funding

- HB 35 Various County Public Notices

- HB 51 Eastern Counties/Public Notices

- HB 62 Gov immigration Compliance/Enjoin Ordinances

- HB 66 Expand Eligibility for Utility Account

- SB 31 Political Subdivisions/Local Bidders Notice 

League lobbyists took meetings with numerous legislators this week to familiarize them with the legislative goals set by cities and towns. These meetings included top leaders in both chambers – Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

​A new revenue forecast from state officials put anticipated revenue collections for fiscal year 2020-21 “well above" previous expectations by $4.1 billion, or more than 17 percent. “We expect modest improvement throughout the upcoming biennium, with the worst economic impacts from the pandemic behind us," states the North Carolina General Fund Revenue Consensus Forecast produced by agencies including the Office of State Budget and Management and published Thursday by the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division. It adds: “The State's economy is in the recovery phase of the business cycle after the quick and sudden recession precipitated by the pandemic. The forecast assumes that economic conditions will continue to strengthen throughout the biennium." It also assumes Congress will enact more stimulus with an extension of federal unemployment insurance programs and direct payments to households this spring. It also expects growth in taxable income to slow modestly in the second half of this year “as the impact of stimulus fades and as consumers shift spending toward more non-taxable services," as stated by a companion consensus forecast document. Both documents linked above offer context and other details explaining the forecast and how it applies.

Following Local Government Commission (LGC)  action last week, the State Water Infrastructure Authority (SWIA) met on Wednesday to approve an initial list of distressed utilities, but decided to delay their action to give time to communicate with those utilities.  

In January, both LGC and SWIA took action to approve criteria to identify distressed water and wastewater systems, and that criteria were used by the LGC and SWIA to create the list of distressed utilities. Session Law 2020-79 created the Viable Utility Reserve (VUR) fund – a new grant program to support financially struggling public water and wastewater systems by facilitating viable operations and encouraging regionalization – and tasked the LGC and SWIA with developing criteria together to identify utilities that are in distress. The process will help a utility to determine its current conditions, consider what viable options may be available, and allow the LGC and SWIA to work with the utility on the implementation of long-term solutions. Session Law 2020-79 was the result of a yearlong legislative study and stakeholder process that focused on the more than $17 billion in water and sewer infrastructure needs statewide.

In delaying its action, SWIA decided to send a letter as communication to the utilities that will likely be designated as distressed, explaining the process and offering the opportunity for the utility to submit its own other data. In the meantime, the League is offering a webinar through its Advancing Municipal Leaders program to help members understand this designation. Distressed Public Utilities: What It Means for Municipalities is set for March 2, 10 – 11 a.m. (via zoom). Kim Colson from the Department of Environmental Quality and Sharon Edmundson from the Local Government Commission will be presenting more information about the distressed utility designation. Registration is available here.